Business

Chamber Joins Coalition to Successfully Pass Awnings Act!

Once vibrant commercial strip in Flushing now barren due to sign penalties

Flushing, NY – Council Members Rafael Espinal and Peter Koo today joined merchants in the Asian American Federation’s Union Street Small Business Program in Flushing to rally in support of the Awnings Act – legislation that would ease the punitive burden on small businesses in response to a recent citywide blitz of violations for improper signs and awnings.

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Although the recent spate of sign violations imposed by the NYC Department of Buildings has affected businesses throughout the city, there is stark visual evidence of its impact on Flushing’s Union Street. After receiving thousands of dollars in fines, dozens of businesses on Union Street were forced to remove their signs, turning the once vibrant commercial corridor in Flushing into a barren strip of exposed brick and cement storefronts.

 

The Awnings Act is sponsored by Council Member Rafael Espinal and co-sponsored by Council Members Mark Gjonaj, Justin Brannan, Carlos Menchaca, Bob Holden, Peter Koo, Kalman Yeger. It would establish the following:

 

Immediate Relief for Small Businesses

  • Implements an immediate 2-year moratorium on the DOB’s ability to issue any fines / violations relating to business signs
  • Signs that are out of compliance, regardless as to whether they have received a fine, can be left up for these 2 years
  • Complete financial relief for any business with an outstanding fine
  • Reduced permit fees for hanging new signs

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Education & Outreach

  • DOB, DCP and SBS must develop an education program for small businesses
  • Covering accessory signs, regulations, and how to bring non-compliant signs into compliance
  • Will include information about how to apply for a zoning variance if needed, and who is qualified to do the work
  • All materials will be in the 10 most common languages spoken in the City

 

Information Gathering & Investigation

  • Within 30 days of passing, DOB must provide a report
    • Taskforce will investigate predatory practices that might explain the concentration of violations in certain areas

 

Strategy for Reform

  • Taskforce comprised of small business owners, chambers of commerce from each borough, union rep, licensed sign hanger, DOB, DCP, LPC, SBS, DCAS
  • Analyze outreach strategy to make sure all businesses are better informed about regulations and how to avoid fines before moratorium is lifted
  • Within 12 months, taskforce must complete an evaluation of the relevance and appropriateness of current regulatory practices AND evaluate sign hanging qualifications and if they should be changed.

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Council Member Peter Koo stated, “The enforcement blitz on mom and pop stores throughout our city, particularly here in Flushing, smacks of a one-sided gotcha game played by the City of New York. The Awnings Act looks to tip the scales back into balance and give our small businesses a fair chance to comply with the law. I’d like to thank Council Member Espinal for his leadership on this bill, and I encourage our colleagues to support this needed legislation.”

 

Council Member Rafael Espinal stated, “From day one, this legislation has been about delivering relief to small businesses. Walk up Fulton Street in my district, or here in Flushing, and you can see first-hand the toll that this enforcement blitz has taken on our mom-and-pop shops and family-owned restaurants. The bill I am sponsoring will put a stop to that, and ensure we are working with small businesses, rather than unfairly penalizing them for laws that most weren’t even aware of. I want to thank my colleagues in the Council, including Peter Koo, Justin Brannan, Carlos Menchaca, Kalman Yeger, Mark Gjonaj, and Bob Holden for their work on this critical issue, and I look forward to the vote on this bill.”

 

Jo-Ann Yoo, Executive Director of Asian American Federation, stated, “We thank Council Members Rafael Espinal and Peter Koo for proposing a strong Awnings Act that will help the 100+ merchants that the Asian American Federation is working with on Union Street to address the signage issue. The proposals for a two-year moratorium, creating a joint task force of small business owners and representatives of various city agencies to monitor the issue, and allowing general contractors to hang signs will do much to alleviate the burden the signage enforcement has created for Asian small business owners. We also ask that the Department of Buildings provide in-language instructions and forms for signage permits in the mandated languages. Many immigrant small business owners do not speak English well enough to understand permit requirements and are penalized as a result. The City must do a better job in educating ALL small business owners, especially as Asian small businesses are critical to the city’s economy.”

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Ikhwan Rim, President of the Union Street Small Business Association, stated, “Many merchants are suffering from the recent signage inspections from DOB, costing businesses thousands of dollars. New Yorkers like to call themselves the city for small businesses, but this law that DOB is enforcing is severely hurting merchants. This law was made 60 years ago, and it’s absurd that there are only 20 to 30 people who are licensed to hang signs, meanwhile there are over 200,000 small businesses in NYC. Some small business owners are actually closing their stores and loaning money to pay off their penalty. I thank Councilman Peter Koo for helping us advocate for a remedy to this serious problem, and I thank Councilman Espinal for introducing this Awning Act. I hope it passes the City Council.”

Dian Yu, Executive Director of the Downtown Flushing Transit Hub Business Improvement District, stated, “After receiving multiple complaints from the small business and property owners throughout the Flushing BID district, we welcome this new bill that will give the hard-working owners a chance to correct the signage problems without incurring hefty fines.”

Taehoon Kim, President of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, stated, “Small business is the backbone of the economy and the largest job generating engine in Flushing. Some estimates indicate that it costs $10,000 to bring signage into compliance. This is a significant burden to small business owners who are already experiencing hardship due to an economic shift to online commerce. The Chamber urges the City to mitigate this hardship to support small business owners of New York City.”

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